Some of my fondest memories as a child involved sitting in front of the television set on a sleepy Sunday afternoon and catching up with the latest escapades of super-sleuths Miss Marple, and the wonderfully grand Hercule Poirot (David Suchet was born for that role). Now much older, and with a PSVR in tow, those talented folks at Tequila Works have adapted the whodunit concept into an immersive theatre that leverages Sony’s VR technology quite unlike any other title on the market.
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The Invisible Hours brings immersive theatre to PSVR
Framed as a first-person perspective theatrical presentation where the player must sit down and watch a performance unfold from the comfy confines of a posh auditorium, The Invisible Hours takes us to a place that we’d have no hope of ever visiting; a realm of bountiful historical fiction that encompasses such figures as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, and where more crucially, the latter has been brutally murdered by an unknown killer.
Once the performance begins, the story unfurls around you as the characters go about their lives, striking up conversations with one another and performing various acts as time marches on. As a disembodied presence, you cannot directly interact with the physical world in which the narrative of The Invisible Hours unfolds, instead you can only observe, study and analyse key objects in the environment. Likewise, owing to your almost ghostly form, you are also bestowed with the ability to move and go anywhere in and around Tesla’s cliffside estate at will; the idea being that you’ll spy a character betraying their earlier actions, or worse, breaking down entirely from the composure that they would normally possess when surrounded by Tesla’s other guests.
These telling glimpses behind the masks of civility and in some cases, sanity, are telling; because not only do they act as a means of progression through the game, inching you closer to the identity of the culprit, but they also serve to illustrate the substantive depth of the characters that Tequila Works has created here. From the dangerous Victor Mundy, to rival inventor Thomas Edison and the endlessly foppish Augustus Vanderberg, the cast of The Invisible Hours are simply a joy to behold as they interact with one another and entwine themselves in the mystery of Tesla’s passing.
And that’s not even the end of it either, because in addition to being able to move freely and inspect objects and key areas in the environment, players also have the passage of time under their yoke and can fast forward or rewind it to observe the characters and the events that unfold around them at any given point; allowing them out-of-the-box observations of occurrences that they wouldn’t normally have.
Because even with your time manipulation abilities you can only really follow one person at any one time (freezing time and constantly switching and finding each guest would be a pain in the rear, after all), this also serves to extend the duration of the experience somewhat, as each character invariably ends up charting a different course of events resulting in a different ending, and as such, it’s all too easy to miss so much with just a single playthrough. Make no mistake; The Invisible Hours is an experience that demands multiple playthroughs.
While there’s no denying the wealth of artistic flair and narrative ingenuity that has so clearly been threaded through every part of The Invisible Hours design DNA, it must be said that it simply won’t be for everybody. With its deliberate pace, voyeuristic focus and omission of high-octane thrills, The Invisible Hours struggles to justify its current $30 price point (£35 in the UK) and that will be factor going forward, and one which will work to detriment of attempts to widen its relatively niche appeal.
Something else that affects the experience a touch is the level of visual fidelity. It’s no secret that when compared to its PC counterparts the PSVR finds itself outgunned in terms of technical specifications and the graphical fidelity that it can offer as a result. Because of this, the lower resolution display of the PSVR version of The Invisible Hours results in some detail being lost; chiefly when it comes to legibility of text, and being able to read the facial expressions (a key component of any immersive theatre performance) of characters at distance. Irregardless, The Invisible Hours remains an stylistic and artistic triumph, and its unique aesthetic flair endures in memory for far longer than its technical shortcomings.
With such a unique approach to storytelling and one that deftly echoes the voyeurism seen in Tequila Works most recent title, The Sexy Brutale, The Invisible Hours leverages the storytelling possibilities afforded by PSVR in a way quite unlike any other title has been able to.
Nonetheless, the lean level of player interaction, coupled with a modest running time and an inflated price point, ($30 is definitely steep) all mean that The Invisible Hours doesn’t quite provide the bang for buck ratio that some would rightfully expect for its asking price. All the same, those who muster up both the will and funds to take the plunge will not be disappointed; The Invisible Hours captivates from mysterious beginning to revelatory end.